Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gratitude for a Happy Home

I am pretty sure my housekeeper thinks I have a drug problem.

She does not judge the sink full of dishes I leave each week, nor the un-watered plants that are on the brink of death, or even the random (wrapped!) condom she finds that has slipped out the back of my nightstand. But each time she visits my home, she completely removes all traces of the white pills I leave on the stovetop.

The pills, of course, are for my cat Peaches, who has a heart problem and relies on the milky white drugs for normal daily function. Her pills are kept in two stocked pharmacy bottles on the kitchen windowsill, and because she needs only a quarter of a human heart medication, I keep the cut pills on the stove next to the olive oil (who doesn’t?!).

My housekeeper, Alicia, doesn’t speak English, so she is not able to read that the innovative Target pill bottles are clearly marked “Peaches Marconi.” And even if she could, I am not sure she realizes that this is the name of my cat. 

Does it matter?

Alicia arrives each Thursday morning as I am leaving for work, and the best communication we can manage is of the weather. Since I am usually only half-dressed by the time she arrives, she tells me if it’s cold or warm; and I head off, leaving her to take care of my home, which she does, every time, with amazing care. She is a fantastic asset. But because we can’t communicate properly – even on the most basic level - I often wonder what she perceives of my lifestyle.

We obviously come from significantly different backgrounds. She is from another country, although I don’t know where; she has a family, which I only know because her daughter manages most of her business affairs; and she makes a living cleaning homes, which I know because I was referred by someone else. But that’s it. That is all I've got on her. Yet, due to her role in managing my home, we share an intimate relationship - especially since she knows much more about my life.

She knows that I hate doing dishes and that I attempt to recycle. She knows my cycle of bed sheets, which shoes I’ve worn the day before, the mail I receive. She knows that I leave the radio on for my cat, which shampoo I use, and the magazines and books I am reading at any given time. She sees that I like fresh flowers, fragrant candles, and that I pull daily affirmations from a jar. She’s even met a former boyfriend, the apartment manager, and my handyman. And apparently, she also thinks I have an issue with small white pills.

Alicia has become an integral part of my life, and besides the obligatory bonuses on the holidays and attempted thank you notes in Spanish, I have no way to show her how much this care means to me. Is this a larger societal problem, or my own personal bourgeois guilt?

Throughout time, women not related to us have taken care of our homes, our children, our businesses. Their daily labor has produced a good percentage of our nation’s GDP, raised productive adults, and kept chaos at bay – and all under the table. Although at some economic level this is simply a macro issue of supply and demand, it seems that there should be a greater priority to thank those who do much of society’s work – the efforts that seem not so economically viable for us to do ourselves.

I am not sure how to express this gratitude to my trusty housekeeper... I doubt she realizes how much it means to me that she can take care of an area of my life that I cannot, and I often wonder if it signifies anything more to her than simply a few more hours of regular work in her week.  

All I can hope is that our weekly weather chats, my copious thank yous and the random bonuses speak this respect. Or maybe it’s enough for her that she is saving my soul by discarding the small white pills. Either way, I appreciate her and what she brings to my home – and perhaps one day we will find a better way to share this certainty. Rehab, anyone?!

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